Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.09.2012
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You’d think the Lakers might have learned something from Pat Riley two years ago about being patient with a coach. 5 games into the season? Sheesh.
Sam: I am shocked. Well, surprised is probably enough for sports. I heard all this stuff about how Miami started 9-8 after the big trades and there’s time. So this firing of Mike Brown really doesn’t make much sense. It did seem clear Kobe really did like him. He was the brainchild of the new operating chief, Jim Buss. Plus, he was on a long term deal, Steve Nash wasn’t playing and they were installing a new system of play. But five games may be a lot more on the West Coast given the time change. I’ve never been a fan of Brown’s and do think he is a classic Peter Principle guy, a great assistant promoted over his competency level given he is such a nice guy. I guess that’s what you can do when you get a $3 billion local TV contract. Hello, Phil?
They should've fired Lakers GM and half the team.
Sam: I assume Mitch Kupchak would not have done this. But like with the Dallas Cowboys, the professional people probably don’t have much say in running that franchise. Maybe Dwight will change his mind again. We’ve seen it before. Hey, Houston has cap space.
Any chance of the Bulls revisiting trade talks with the Lakers? Boozer and Rip Hamilton for Pau Gasol seems like a fair trade don't you think. Rose wants to play with Pau and Boozer is friends with Dwight.
Sam: Let’s make clear these trade talks were only in your imagination. Howard also is friends with Big Bird, and I don’t think the Lakers are making that trade. That’s a fair trade for Bulls fans seeking to help the Bulls and damage the Lakers. Though given the Lakers latest activity, maybe they move Howard and Kobe for Jimmy Butler. Maybe some cap pieces throw in to even the salaries. Like the United Center.
The Bulls do not look that bad so far this year, but it has become apparent that Thibs is still focused on winning games and going as far as he can with this team. This means that Butler's development may be slowed some by Thibs desire to win games, and that the Bulls will not look to bring in a young player to develop once they have flexibility to add to the roster in a few weeks. I think this may be a mistake, since I do not expect Rose back until the end of the year, if at all this season. Wouldn't it make sense to look to bring in some young guys to learn Thibs's system and be able to play with Rose when he is healthy next season to try to get by the Heat. I'm thinking of some players drafted high, but not performing well or collecting dust at the end of the bench of the team they are on, looking and needing an opportunity to prove themselves or last cuts from teams coming into the season. Names like Austin Daye, Nolan Smith, Jeremy Tyler or Hassan Whiteside, come to mind as options, I think this would be better use of our money and the playing time we will have available with that roster spot.
Sam: I’m with Thibs on this. His job as a coach is to win games and not run a developmental system. Plus, I always do believe a team has an obligation to its paying fans to produce as good a product as they can with the talent they have. I’m not one who likes to see football seasons given up on to try out the backup quarterback. Play the best guy. If someone is better, the team will know. Thibs is doing as close to what you are suggesting as he’s capable. He’s a stubborn coach who likes to have a set rotation. But he’s been experimenting and using guys in all sorts of rotations to find things that work. With this roster, I think he’s doing a good job getting as much out of it as he can. We know conservatism is the word for Derrick. But what if he can produce come March. You want to be in position to do something. And Thibs is giving the Bulls the best chance to be there the way he’s handling the team.
Tough loss for Indiana to lose Granger for 3 months to a knee injury. Do you think this puts the Bulls in play for the division crown? Is the winner of the central division guaranteed a top 3 seed in the playoffs?
Sam: I haven’t been much of fan of the Pacers, anyway. I had the Bulls ahead of them—though not winning 50 games—before Granger’s injury. I don’t think much of Hibbert (too slow) and I thought losing Collison would hurt. So we’ll see. The division winner gets a top four seed, but not home court advantage if they don’t have a better record than the team they are playing. If the fourth team has a better record than one division winner, the division winner gets No. 4.
I see the Rockets have won 2 of their first 3 games and the Lakers lost their first three games of the year. I know you like all the maverick moves the Rockets have made (a bit of sarcasm here), but you picked the Lakers to finish near the top of the conference, and you have the Rockets not making the playoffs. It says here that the Lakers may not make the playoffs or barely make it (7th and 8th spot), and the Rockets will make it. As in the movie "Money Ball", when an approach is different and unusual, critics will not embrace change. So with that said, do you want to change your predictions about these teams or will you stick to your original picks?
Sam: Can you give me another week? I thought I was making a nice point saying the Lakers, as most believed, wouldn’t blow away the West and I had them third. I think I can hang onto that a little longer given Nash has been out. Predictions don’t include major injuries. I think I had the Rockets on the edge of the playoffs, and while I’ve always liked Harden and we can see he’s a high level player, it’s still a shaky roster. But as you know we “experts” reserve the right to change anytime and pretend that was what we always were thinking.
It's interesting the Mavericks always go out and spend money to make the team more exciting and better. The Bulls seem happy with just patching things up and being average. Look how well Mayo did for the Mavs. We could have gotten him on a few occasions.
Sam: I’m not sure what you are talking about with the Mavs. Their current payroll is about $25 million less than the Bulls. They won a championship and then broke up the team because Cuban didn’t want to pay Tyson Chandler. They gave away a two time MVP and who knows how many titles because they didn’t want to pay Steve Nash. They are more like the political campaign that tells you not to believe what you see but what I say. As for getting Mayo, there never was anything with Memphis that could have gotten you him short of giving up Gibson and a No. 1 pick. The Mavs had cap room to go after him because they have one of the lowest payrolls in the league.
I am happy Taj is locked up. I think this will help him mentally as he seems like a loyal and emotional player who would have been distracted by his upcoming free agency. Boozer is in for the long haul. I don’t think the Bulls would amnesty him until his last year if they can’t trade him before. It’s funny how much bad mouthing Boozer takes and it never really affects him. I think if most NBA players got the negative attention he mostly gets, they would demand a trade and or back lash at the media or fans. Boozer is one tough hombre.
Sam: It’s a good point about Boozer. It’s something I notice and while I know Boozer gets a lot of heat from fans, he handles this as well as any player I’ve been around. He regularly talks to media despite reporters ripping him and I’ve never seen him act badly or pouty with media members. I’ve seen plenty of players in those situations, and they tend to shut down. Boozer seems routinely upbeat around the team as well. Perhaps fans would then say it’s because he makes his money and doesn’t care. I think he does. But I give him credit for being a professional in his dealings with the public. It is a trait you don’t always see in sports.
Glad we can finally count on boozer in crunch time against good teams.
Sam: The frustration among many Bulls fans toward Boozer never will cease, I know. But hasn’t everyone figured out by now you’ll get good games from him half the time and then not others, and you take what you can. The immediate problem is Gibson hasn’t been very good this season, especially offensively, and against the Thunder he played 25 minutes and had four points, less production than Boozer’s And Boozer did have 11 rebounds in 30 minutes. It wasn’t one of his better games, but he’s been mostly OK thus far. I can see Thibodeau going with some smaller lineups with Deng at four, but then he’s going to have to start playing Deng 50 minutes in 48-minute games by playing four guys and for short segments having Deng be two guys.
Would the Bulls ever take on Eddy Curry again? He seems to look in much better shape then 2 years ago.
Sam: Eddy does seem in very good shape, and I was surprised he was let go by the Mavs for Troy Murphy. The Bulls have struggled inside with Nazr Mohammed off to a slow start. But remember the reason the Bulls wouldn’t retain Curry was the issues regarding his potential heart problem. I don’t think he’s ever done the testing the Bulls wanted, so I suspect nothing in that regard has changed.
I'm a Chicago native and like all Bulls fans I'm holding my breath for Rose's return while swirls of doubt, fear, faith, and hope are blowing around the city as it pertains to his future. How would you compare the feeling of grief/fear of the city and organization about Rose's knee to the loss of Jordan with his foot? I was just a year old when Jordan went down with his foot, so I have no true comparison. Are there any other injuries in Chi sports that affected us like this? Given, Rose's injury is far more threatening than Jordan's, and maybe the Rose Adidas commercials have influenced me, but I feel like myself and the rest of Chicago is really rooting for Rose's triumphant comeback. He's a humble, hardworking kid, and maybe most important, he's our hometown guy. Is he receiving more love than Jordan did?
Sam: Fortunately for Bulls and NBA fans, medicine and surgery has advanced dramatically. No one knows how Rose will be, but in my lifetime you once worried about polio. No more. I go back to Gale Sayers, who might have been the best running back in the history of football. He was Walter Payton with great open field moves, Jim Brown with superior speed. His ACL was a career ender, effectively, though he came back to play. He wasn’t the same guy. Old time Chicagoans don’t talk about that but think it regarding Rose. Everything you read about the surgery now and see Adrian Peterson in football you figure Derrick will be about as good as before. There never was a scare like that with Michael; more a setback. Though perhaps the big thing was the Bulls weren’t very good. They’d just a 38-win rookie season with Michael. Yes, an improvement, but there was no thought of challenging for a title. The Bulls were there last season with Rose already the MVP and a deep team. So there was that disappointment. Plus, Michael’s was a clean break and a few months later he was back and ready to play. The issue became more his readiness to play vs the organization’s conservatism. That will be the issue to come, though Rose as a less forceful figure than Michael.
I hope Bulls brass is thinking the same way I am...sometime in the future I'd like to see this starting lineup: Rose Deng Mirotic Gibson, Noah. What do you think? and what do you think are the chances of this happening?
Sam: Is that good enough to compete for a title? That’s putting a lot on Mirotic, and while I think he’s very good I’m not sure he’s the great player whom you’d want. But he’s so young it’s tough to tell as he’s struggled some back in Europe this season. Plus, your lineup doesn’t work because Mirotic can’t play small forward at his size and Deng isn’t your shooting guard. You can still use a young Wade in there.
Do you think we will see Nate throw down some dunks throughout the season? He seemed to have a fair few chances so far, especially on breaks, or is his vertical just not the same as a few years ago?
Sam: My guess is he’d love to, but I get the sense he’s been warned by Thibodeau about too many antics. Thibs has left him alone about his airplane mimicry after making shots. But if he tried and missed one, I think he even gets it wouldn’t go over well. Especially given the slight margin of error the Bulls have in most games. Though if he still can, and I assume he can, I suspect he’ll find a way.
Are the Bulls better with Nate at the point than Kirk? I just feel a scoring pg helps the other guys. I like Kirk but seems like Nate the Bulls play better when he’s out there looking to score.
Sam: I think we saw clearly against Oklahoma City what can happen. They killed Nate off the dribble, compromised the defense and the two worst portions of the game were when he was in with various reserves. Kirk’s been having a terrific season and the Bulls badly need him on the floor. Nate is valuable in stretches, like a baseball eighth inning reliever. But you can’t go to long with him. He’s a streak shooter and he’ll win you a game here and there and has been good this season. But you have to use him in Nate doses, which means small.
I'm one of those in the minority that believes that Derrick Rose should sit out the entire season. I want him to take his time and make sure that his knee is stronger than ever - no matter what his doctors say. After watching Marcus Lattimore (RB, South Carolina Gamecocks) go down with a knee injury to the same leg, who also rushed back so he could play this season, I'm even more convinced! Do you think Marcus Lattimore's injury will make Bulls management think twice about rushing Rose back to play this season.
Sam: I do not believe they are rushing Rose at all. To the contrary, I don’t believe anyone in management feels Rose needs to return this season. They’d like him to return because that means they would be assured by the doctors he is good to go and he can start the process of recovery, mentally as well. That’s the big issue you hear from everyone who has gone through these things. You want to get some play in, especially in basketball, so you can assure yourself that the parts work right. I don’t think anyone wants to start that process next season and then spend part of next season having Rose feel out the game. I think they’d love to see him do it this season and then come flying into next season. But they are going to be conservative and be assured by every doctor Rose doesn’t risk re-injury given this is the first season of his extension and there’s plenty of time to go. I’m sure they’re being as conservative as you’d like to be, but in the proper medical way.
I like this starting lineup: Noah, Boozer, Deng, Butler(SG), Hinrich.
Sam: As you have seen lately, Thibodeau has gone more to Butler for defense and played him more regularly. The issue is offense. The team needs Hamilton or Marco Belinelli to make shots, and when one does, like Hamilton Thursday against the Thunder, the Bulls are in a game with even the best teams. Jimmy would have to make threes to get more time as the team really is weak now in that area.
Is it just me or does it seem like Jimmy Butler can score really easily? He seems to average next to no minutes yet still puts an easy 6pts or so on the board! I thought this guy was meant to be a defensive specialist!? Nice that he has worked on his offensive game.
Sam: It’s clear Jimmy has worked hard on his offense to improve, and Thibs is giving him some time. Jimmy’s points mostly have been on hustle, second effort, stuff like that. Until he develops more of a knockdown shot off screens I’m not sure how many minutes he’ll get.
Just wondering what you thought of the Bulls acquiring Kenyon Martin, who is currently looking for work and willing to accept a minimum contract. With his ability to play defense, his experience, and his hardnosed approach to the game, I'd think he'd be a great fit for the Bulls. I'm worried about the Bulls interior defense and rebounding whenever Noah is out. I'd prefer a true center, as Taj does not seem like he's going to be able to play the position effectively, even against backups, but unless a good center makes himself available, we could do a lot worse than adding Martin.
Sam: I’ve has his name mentioned by fans, but as he asked in that Yahoo Sports interview about is he that bad a guy. Well, he may be. I think it’s more duplication for the Bulls. Given he’s Taj’s size and plays power forward, he’d just take minutes from Taj or Boozer. I know, cut the cheering. But he really can’t score much and is inured an awful lot. There’s more a reason than previous attitude why no one is taking a chance. The Bulls issues are more in scoring and if they do make an addition I’d assume that’s where it would be. Though you don’t answer many major issues after every team has passed on guys.
Is Kirk Hinrich the best defensive point guard in the league? If not, who is better?
Sam: I think he is one of the best, if underrated. You can see some great examples of it already the way he frustrated Kyrie Irving, which hardly anyone has been able to do yet as Irving is quickly becoming one of the league’s elite point guards. I’d take him over Deron Williams right now. And Hinrich had Russell Westbrook flummoxed for much of Thursday’s game with the Thunder. It was obvious early as Westbrook was so upset at Hinrich’s physical play it clearly took Oklahoma City out of its offense. But Hinrich often gets overlooked in place of guys who are better promoters, like Tony Allen, Chris Paul. The coaches who vote this award keep putting on Kobe Bryant, which is a joke. Rondo is also good at guard along with Thabo Sefolosha.
Why was Deng completely forgotten for the last three minutes of the OKC game?
Sam: I don’t think he was. He had a drive he lost the ball on with under two minutes left, though without his offense the Bulls wouldn’t have been in that game. It was more Oklahoma City scoring six of its last eight possessions, and on tough shots you really have to just say they were better.
Why doesn’t Thibodeau play Marquis Teague more ? I think he could be of help. all he did is help lead UK to the NCAA title last year. There are those who have said they would not have won without his play.
Sam: He’s 19. I’ve heard from coaches they are pleased with the way he’s come along. But Thibs didn’t play Omer much his first season or Jimmy, either. Nate and Hinrich are plenty for that position for now. Scoring and center play have been issues, and Teague doesn’t exactly address those.
This season has started off better than I expected. But, I still worry that we have too many frequently injured veterans like Boozer, Hamilton, Hinrich and Noah on this roster. If one or a few of those players go down, this could be a very long season. With that in mind, do you think the Bulls would pursue trades to free up future cap space if this season goes south? Perhaps the Bulls could send Deng to a contender like San Antonio for an aging player like Manu Ginobili? Ginobili is in the final year of his deal, so the Bulls could free up almost $13 million for next year. Combine that with an amnesty of Boozer, and they are looking at almost $30 million in cap space to pair with Rose, Noah and Gibson. The Spurs, in turn, would get a much younger player who is probably better than Manu at this stage of his career.
Sam: As we discussed, no breakups. First of all, the team is too good and Thibs too dedicated for them to be too bad. The Spurs, for one, are never trading Manu. And as far as freeing up money, the big question for the Bulls probably is after next season when Deng’s contract expires. The way he plays now and his role with the team it would be awfully tough to lose him. So there are some big decisions ahead, though not quite immediately.
We should speculate on the end of the season since we are already (five) games deep. Which do you believe to be the most beneficial finish to the season from an organizational stand point: 1) Play your hearts out, get Rose back anywhere from early Feb to late March and battle for fourth or fifth seed? 2) Pace yourselves, fly under the radar, and try to lock up a berth in the lower half of the bracket, thus prolonging a Miami showdown? 3) Rush Rose back as soon as he is ready and win the Central, because after all, someone has to win it and a Granger-less Pacers team is a pit bull without teeth and Milwaukee has the Bucks. 4) Shut Rose down indefinitely potentially miss playoffs, get in the lottery and trust the GarPax brain trust to find another first-round gem? (after all, we got Gibson at 26th). I realize 4 may be a stretch since Thibs is our coach and I don't think he could phone-in a pizza let alone a season, plus this team looks solid this year. Thoughts?
Sam: I think the idea is (2). I do think Rose will be back for a nice stretch, and I think it’s getting clear watching the East for a whole two weeks what we figured before the season: Miami and good luck finding No. 2. So you want to avoid that four/five spot for a first round series with Miami and take your chances with Amar’e and Carmelo fighting for the ball, the Brooklyn mess, KG having held up, Granger’s health, Boston’s uncertainty and whatever else is going on in the East. I’d take my chances with Thibs and Rose for 20 minutes.
Do you think it would be a good idea for Noah to send over a platter of Big Mac's to the Magic locker room next time they play?
Sam: I know Glen Davis would appreciate that, but then hardly anyone else gets one. This is in regards to Noah taking that last three to try to win hamburgers for the home crowd. Silly stuff, I know, and Noah, as he said, regretted it. I don’t really think the Magic players were that upset as they didn’t seem to be quite sure what was going on. And it might be several years before any serious Bulls/Magic rivalry that matters. But you are right. It’s good advice around the NBA to never make Gustavo Ayon mad.